Wits’ title triumph in the PSL last week is a classic example of a club setting an objective for itself and putting in place the plan and the personnel to achieve it. In South Africa, far too often, followers of the sport are too obsessed with this faux mantra of “kasi football”.
The sport of football has moved on in leaps and bounds. There is a far more defensive mind-set to top-level professional football, which is why shape, structure and organisation are far more important. Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for individual ability within a team structure, but it has to be utilised efficiently, so that the end-product benefits the whole.
It should always be remembered – especially by supporters – that there is another team on the field during the 90 minutes. The opposition never just lies down and plays dead – it, too, has its own goals and ambitions. It, too, is trying as hard as possible to win. As such, it’s important to accord the other team the respect it deserves. Winning, especially in professional sport, is never easy.
Wits’ title success, as the club’s chief executive Jose Ferreira so aptly summed up, is “a victory of humility over arrogance”. A lot of what happens in SA football is but a mirror image of what passes for interaction and communication in the whole country at large, in that it is dominated by bombast and arrogance.
Instead, the Clever Boys have placed emphasis on vision, sound planning, attention to detail, hard work and a savage commitment to the task, both on and off the field. They asked for nothing, and did everything.
And, so, the champions you see celebrating during the moment of glory is, in fact, not the real champions. The real champions are the ones you don’t see, in the weeks and months of planning and labour (in Wits’ case, it has been three years in the making).
In the same breath, in analysing Wits’ PSL success, it also reinforces the opinion that football is the same all over the planet. Whether you are in St Kitts and Nevis, Kyrgyzstan, Germany or SA, winning a title requires the same ingredients. And not just in the aforementioned traits, but also in the make-up of the squad.
For Wits, it was in the reliability of the number one jersey, strength in defence, composed solidity in midfield, and individuals who made a difference, who were capable of creating something from nothing.
From Darren Keet and Moeneeb Josephs in goal, to the pugnacious Thulani Hlatshwayo and the magnificent Buhle Mkhwanazi at the back, the unruffled presence of the midfield axis, among them Xolani Mlambo, Thabang Monare, Phumlani Ntshangase, Ben Motshwari and Granwald Scott, and the individual flamboyance of Gabadinho Mhango and teenager Phakamani Mahlambi
Look at the winners in some of the European leagues and you will find the very same winning formula in the composition of their teams. In Italy, Juventus reigned supreme, with the incomparable Gianluigi Buffon in goal and midfield work-horses like Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic.
Paulo Dybala and even right-back Dani Alves provided the creative thrust, while it would probably be easier to find a way into Fort Knox than get past centre-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
Bayern Munich in Germany, Chelsea in England or even Monaco in France, it’s the same tale. Goalkeepers Manuel Neuer, Thibaut Courtois and Danijel Subasic; in midfield, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Fabinho (Monaco), Thiago Alcantara, Arturo Vidal and Xabi Alonso (Bayern) and, of course, that inimitable Chelsea duo of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic.
And, naturally, they all have an inventive, innovative individual, who can pull a rabbit out of the hat when the team is struggling: Kylian Mbappe (Monaco), Arjen Robben (Bayern) and Eden Hazard (Chelsea).
But for Wits now it’s about enjoying the moment while it lasts. Because the next season awaits, and there will be new, even steeper challenges. In football, a team’s character is not so much in its present success, but rather in its ability to repeat the feat.